The Area and it’s surroundings
Fontevraud nestles at the foot of an ancient forest where if you walk to the very top at one point you will find a statue of Jesus. It is a bit like the garden of forked paths where you can take a number of paths some of them will lead you to the hidden gems of the forest others will take you upwards and behind the abbey. Once you have reached Jesus as you look down you will have as your vantage point a sweeping view of the village and the many vineyards and fields that skirt the area. This is a forest that boasts many trees including Oaks, Hawthorns, Sapins, and also Holly-bushes, Mistletoe/le gui, Gorses and Heather. In season there is also an abundance of wild flowers of many colours that carpet the forest floor amongst them wild orchids, cyclamens, roses, buttercups, primroses and bluebells to name but a few.
All the houses in the village, including its abbey, are built of the soft creamy coloured tuffeau, typical of the region – a stone that is laced with limestone and impacted fossils.
The next village to Fontevraud l’abbaye is Montsoreau. Its backdrop is the Loire River and its principal feature is its Chateau which is dedicated to the theme of the river and marine culture. Once upon a time, this chateau would have been positioned actually on the river, and visitors of yesteryear would have arrived in their boats, ships and barges and disembark next to the walls of the chateau. If its tapestries, paintings and ornate furniture that you are looking to see, this is not the chateau for you. If however you are interested in the history of the river and would like to see a fabulous panoramic view of the river and the embankments beyond then climb the set of stone steps up to the very top and take in the vistas.
There is also a brilliant weekly fruit and vegetable market held every Sunday (cf my blog on Montsoreau market and Mushroom soup). Another highlight to village life is that on every second Sunday in each month an excellent flea market is held on the banks of the river. Here you can haggle away to your hearts content as most of the stallholders are up for a little negotiation. For those looking for old post cards of the region there is a stall with a huge collection.
The staff at the office de tourisme in Montsoreau are especially helpful.
The Artists Village of Turquant
Just along the road from us past Montsoreau can be found the delightful artists village of Turquant. Set within the caves it is an enchanting place for the visitor to enjoy and marvel at. Here the visitor will find a Métiers d’art with an arts boutique and many artists in situ.
These many creamy coloured Troglos, were created long ago by quarrying the local tuffeau stone; a material that has become emblematic of the fine white architecture of the region and why Saumur, the nearest big town, is often referred to as * la ville blanche * – the White town. Here, in Turquant, slightly off the beaten track, and running parallel to the Loire river, closer inspection reveals some of the caves to be homes; others are store houses for the locally produced wines where visitors can ‘degust’ a tipple or two, and also most interestingly there are a string of arts and crafts studios.
There is something quite surreal about visiting exhibitions and doing your shopping for ‘cadeaux’ in what looks like an emporium that even Betty Rubble might have been proud to shop in. If indeed she were to find herself here today, she might be tempted to buy from one of the ateliers, a beautiful piece of hand blown glass, some pure hand-painted porcelain or some fabulously crafted jewellery and even purchase an individually designed ‘sac’ to put it all in. She could then have a glass of vino at Bistroglo, the bar at the heart of the space where regional products are served including rather surprisingly local beer – one is called La Sarcohagus -, or a local apple snack from * Le Troglo des Pomme* where visitors can sample apple delights and the famous Pomme Tapée, a process of drying and tapping the apples, creating a delicacy that is specific to this part of the Loire.
Check out the web site for up to date information about opening hours, special events and information about the artists and their work.
Our personal favourite wine to drink are the bubbly wines of the Loire and for these we go to the following:
Gratien & Meyer – this is just along the road from us in Parnay near Saumur. The cave is set back off the road like a Jay Gatsby mansion and interestingly enough every summer Gratien & Meyer host jazz boules, festival weekends when they offer visitors and intoxicating mix of ‘champagne’ and live jazz music. My especial preference is for the dry sparkling Crémant
The sparkling wines of Bouvet Ladubay are also simply delicious.
The following site entitled decanter provides a useful reference featuring other popular wines in the region.
Château of the Loire
Of course there are so many to choose from and my husband and son often tell me that they are “all Château’ed’ out”.
Personal favourites of ours are however:-
Château de Brissac
Where every December a truly magical Christmas fair is held. The last time we visited the theme was an Austrian Christmas where the halls were decked with holly and huge, highly decorated Christmas trees featured on each floor. An interesting feature of this particular Château is it theatre. Open all year round the original Cossé-Brissac family, whose head bears the French noble title of Duke of Brissac, still reside within. So much for the revolution one might conjecture, but still it is a marvelous place to visit at Rue Louis Moron, 49320 Brissac-Quincé.
Château de Brézé
The Château de Brézé is another personal favourite of ours with its dry moat and labyrinthine caves.
The shining star for those who enjoy gardens and gardening must surely be the Château at Villandry. Located in the département of Indre-et-Loire, France, it is positioned on lands at 3 Rue Principale, where until the 17th century an ancient fortress once stood called the Colombier . Within the Château is an eclectic collection of paintings (some of them somewhat bizarre and darkly gothic such as one or two particularly eerie one by Goya. There is also an amazing Byzantine style cupola ceiling. The Château was rescued n1906 by Dr. Joachim Carvallo, the founder of modern tourism.
Throughout the summer visitors can board one of the enchanting wooden boats of the Loire from a number of places along the river including at Candes St. Martin and Chouzé sur Loire. Costs vary depending on where you board.
Chouzé sur Loire is magical for both a boat trip, for walking and also for a picnic. It is one of my favourite local beauty spots. There is even a bar and bistro at Chouzé..a perfect location for a bevvy or two….
French people have a passion for the ‘Randonnée’ and according to www.franceonfoot.com although France is three times England’s size, it has more than eight times the mileage of public footpaths. These are marked out to make them easy to follow using colour coded symbols. For examples check out http://randotouraine.asso.fr/
You will find organized walks all over the country – in towns, villages and their surrounding countryside. The walks can range from 2 to 20 km.
See this site for locations :http://www.rando-valdeloire.fr/index.php
Le Musee de Blindes/Tank Museum
Not that I am a fan but my husband and son love this place. This is the largest tank museum in Europe and many of their machines are restored to working order. Should you be interested in models and memorabilia, le Musee de Blindes has I am told by my husband Tony “an excellent shop” .
Once a year in July there is the Carrousel de Saumur where spectators have an opportunity to see some of the old tanks in action as they parade along the streets of Saumur…could be a bit daunting if you don’t realise what is happening! Actually the latter reminds me of the fact that Fontevraud is near the local army base and that from time to time a tank will draw up outside the local boulangerie and its driver will collect the odd baguette or two…
There are examples of tanks form the ‘World War I’ to those that were captured at the end of the Second World War to tanks that have been used in Iraq.